Six years ago, several golfers polled by Sports Illustrated projected that Chad Campbell would be the next pro to win a major.
The magazine’s editors decided not to deliver this news quietly. It slapped a picture of Campbell on the cover, with him crouched and peeking out from behind his golf bag. The headline read: “Next Big Thing.”
Safe to say, Campbell has remained slightly obscured by more than a golf bag. This was confirmed Friday when he walked off the 18th green atop the Masters’ leaderboard for the second straight day and moments later passed a security guard, who said, “Hi, Boo.”
Fortunately, this Masters is at least moving Campbell in the general direction of “Big.”
He birdied the first five holes of his opening round, a tournament record. One day later, he maintained his own curious level of unconsciousness with four more birdies on the first 10 holes. So this Masters afterthought — who missed the cut in 2007 and failed to qualify for entry in 2008 — was 11-under par through 20 holes.
“I tried not to pay that much attention to it,” he said.
But everybody else is. His 9-under-135 is good for a share of the lead with Kenny Perry going into Saturday’s third round.
“There’s still a long way to go,” he said. “But it’s definitely nice not to be on foreign ground.”
It was a slight reference to the Masters in 2006. Campbell led after two rounds. He shot a 67 on Friday. Then a storm washed out most of Saturday’s round, and him with it. Rain limited Campbell to four holes, forcing him to play 32 on Sunday.
So much for momentum. He fizzled, and finished third.
“It made it pretty difficult,” he said of the weather delays. “You know, it would have been nice if it just could have went like it was supposed to.”
Yes, well. Sometimes the next big thing doesn’t arrive when it’s supposed to.
He said he has “never seen myself as a big, high-profile guy.” But things looked promising in 2003. Campbell finished second in the PGA Championship. He won The Tour Championship. He had nine top-10 finishes and was seventh on the money list.
But that turned out to be an early career aberration. He has won only three tournaments in the last six years. He either missed the cut (eight times) or failed to play (two) in half of the 20 majors since 2004. After his third-place finish in Augusta in 2006, he imploded with a pair of 77s in 2007, failing to make the cut at 10-over, and then didn’t qualify for the ‘08 tournament.
Campbell said he was “very disappointed last year not being here. I look forward to coming here probably more than any other event.”
But he’s making up for it. He steadied himself after consecutive bogeys on 11 and 12 (which he three-putted), finishing the round with a 20-foot birdie putt on 18. By the end of the day, that birdie ensured him a share of the lead with Perry, a long-time friend and former Ryder Cup teammate.
“If one of us gets going [in the next round],” said Perry, “maybe he’ll drag the other one over the finish line.”
At this point, just getting there would be the story.